Sunday, March 27, 2016

What A (Bria or Briana) Day!

Today has the potential to be a monumental day in Syracuse basketball history.
By the end of the day, we could have not one, but two teams in the Final Four!
At 3:30pm the women play followed by the men at 6.
Entering the women's tournament it seemed like a 3-team race. UConn would likely win, Notre Dame and South Carolina had a chance. Both those teams lost only one game all season, to UConn.
But Friday night, not only did #4 Syracuse knock off South Carolina, but Stanford beat Notre Dame.
In both those regions the 7-seed beat the 2 and the 3, setting up 4 vs. 7 in both regionals for a date in the National Semifinals.
Syracuse's 7th-seeded opponent however is Tennessee. The second-best program in women's college basketball history.
But this is not the Tennessee teams you may remember under Pat Summitt.
This is the highest seed the Lady Vols have ever gotten. Syracuse lost to them once already this season, 57-55 in Tennessee.

A brief aside about why I like women's basketball: Yes, I prefer men's. But the games are close enough to still be basketball and different enough to still be interesting.

The skill level in men's is obviously higher. But the women play a more wide open game (because they're smaller, they cover less floor space), they pass more and because they don't shoot 3s as well (Syracuse has 3 players shooting 31% or higher on at least 145 attempts), they don't just stand there jacking them up.

But my favorite difference is the emotion. The players aren't in college trying to kill time before they go pro. In the NCAA Tournament, win or lose every player on both teams cries.

And Syracuse fans get one extra reason to enjoy the game: Alexis Peterson.
A pound guard who relentlessly pushes the ball, plays tough defense, shoots 3s and most importantly, makes her free throws, 86% on 29 attempts in the tournament.
And as for the aforementioned emotion -- she's got that too.

The men will also be trying to reverse an earlier defeat against conference rival Virginia. In fact, it's not much of a rivalry, Virginia has beaten Syracuse all 3 times they played since the Orange entered the ACC.

The narrative (that I don't quite believe in) is that non-conference teams can't figure out the 2-3 zone, but conference foes know just what to do. But as the great Pete Bell said "it's know what you do, god damn it, it's how you do it." If SU aggressively doubles the post, and still gets back out on shooters, it's more difficult for teams to beat the zone. If the opponent makes their 3s, contested or otherwise, then the zone is beat.

I don't have high hopes for their chances against Virginia but for a team that wasn't even supposed to be here, it's been a great tournament run, no matter how it ends.

And we can also remember the senior seasons of Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije fondly.

But both these teams have surprised us before, maybe they have more in store.

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